The Oncoming Decline of Culinary Schools

Similar to how Neil Armstrong created a generation of little boys who were desperate to become astronauts, celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck have inspired recent generations to become chefs. The only caveat is that many believe to become a chef you need to attend culinary school. But even going through a two-year or four-year program doesn't guarantee you a show on the Food Network. Many are left working minimum wage at chain restaurants with crippling student loan debt. Unlike future lawyers or doctors, would-be chefs have a harder chance at making enough money to pay off their loans. It's because of this fact that culinary schools are on the decline.

In 1989, there was a list of culinary schools that reached 125 while that list today includes 447 different schools. Thirty-five percent more students are attending culinary schools than five years ago, according to Tim Ryan, the president of the Culinary Institute of America. So more students in more schools: what could go wrong? Many graduates end up taking out loans that they can barely afford and cripple themselves with debt. A culinary school degree also doesn't guarantee a cushy restaurant job so they are forced to take prep or line-cook jobs that may not pay very well, hence the debt keeps adding up. Even with the restaurant industry creating around two million new jobs in the next ten years, restaurant cooks are still making an average of $9.86 per hour.

Funding is also being cut due to recent legislative measures, which means budgets are being slashed and fewer classes are being offered. Along with that, almost half of the schools accredited by the American Culinary Federations are for-profit and are subject to stricter rules regarding student aid. These regulations implement college programs to "better prepare students for gainful employment or risk losing access to Federal student aid." What is an aspiring chefs with stars in their eyes to do? This just leaves one option: start out at the bottom and pay your dues otherwise known as the "bootstrap"approach. Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get your hands dirty. It's a way to develop the same foundation of learning that culinary school would teach you sans the hefty tuition bill.

The next Julia Child could come out of a top culinary school or just someone with aspirations to be a great chef that started at the bottom and worked his or her way to the top. In the next decade, you might not be able to tell the difference of where a chef got their start!

Chefs and Champagne 2011

This weekend, I had the honor of participating in the James Beard Foundation's Chefs and Champagne 2011. It was held at its annual location, the Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, New York. This event is a time-honored tradition for the James Beard Foundation and I always love being a part of it.

Just the drive to the Hamptons is awe-inspiring. I love seeing all of the fields of strawberries and corn, as well as the vineyards along the highway. The people out east are also more relaxed in their dress than in the city. It's a more laid-back attitude and style.

Every year, the James Beard Foundation gives the opportunity to celebrate an individual in the world of food. Saturday's event honored the famous Emeril Lagasse for his many contributions to the food world and his dedication to educational programs that help young people partake in careers in culinary arts. Emeril is an incredible guy and chef who was among the first to bring food into people's homes through television. He also brought cooking and food in general into mainstream popularity when it was strictly an industry topic. It was a great pleasure for me to join the James Beard Foundation and my fellow chefs in honoring such an amazing man.

Another great aspect to participating in Chef and Champagne is that it gives me the opportunity to do an out-of-house community food event that's right here in New York and not across the country. The vineyard setting also adds a different element to this unique James Beard Foundation Event, since it is quite different from cooking at the Beard House. Chefs can relax a little more in this outdoor atmosphere and interact with one another in a more laid-back manner.

Events like this one reminds me that we are a community of chefs, and that the food industry is popular not because of one person but because of the community. When I attend events like this, I think about the impact that every individual has in the industry.

I had a great time, along with my wife Maya who accompanied me and helped out in my station. I also made sure to spray my fellow chefs with champagne to remind everyone to always have fun at joyous occasions such as this. The turnout was great, the food was amazing, and I enjoyed seeing all of the hats that the public wore. I can't wait for next year's event!

Check back to see my favorite dishes at the event.

Photos: Cyndi Amaya

Burgers

As you may know, burgers are one of my favorite foods, and I'm not alone in my love for a great cheese-topped patty.  The Wall Street Journal printed an article this week about the popularity of burger joints with celebrity chefs.  They mention my Marc Burger restaurants, and even highlight our homemade spicy ketchup! Fellow chefs Bobby Flay, Hubert Keller, and Emeril Lagasse know how great a tasty burger can be. They have burger restaurants across the country that make delicious food.  My two Marc Burger locations in Chicago, Illinois and Costa Mesa, California feature grass-fed, hormone free Angus beef.  The special Marc Burger is not to be missed: 10 ounces of Angus beef, homemade steak sauce and a fried egg to top it all off.

Read the entire article here.